I believe we need to wake up. In the sheltered world of suburbia, however, it can be easy to fall into a trance. Our trance is sustained by the comfort we take in 7-digit housing prices and outperforming schools; comforts which in turn create nearly intangible standards for survival. These standards form barriers with the outside world, deterring those of lower income brackets and stifling diversity within our community. Despite the walls, there is always the possibility of an event taking place which penetrates our world, threatens our sense of security, and changes our very understanding of ourselves.
My trance ended at the age of 10 with the fear induced by the September 11th terrorist attacks. It was five months after the attack that my family was given the opportunity to go with a small group from our church to Cairo, Egypt. Between the front page of the daily newspaper and stories told on the playground, the common fear of a faceless enemy seemed to be a growing obsession.
Despite warnings from friends and family, as well as my parents’ own hesitations, my family continued with the trip. Arriving in Cairo, I can still remember stepping onto the street for the first time and choking on the smog – my body repulsing the unfamiliar atmosphere. Though initially overwhelmed by a pounding case of culture-shock, I slowly learned to inhale my new surroundings.
Unable to engage in all of the work that our church group was doing for a local seminary, I was left to play soccer with resident kids my age. As uncoordinated as I was with my feet, I managed to be accepted by a boy named Rofi. I remember my fascination when Rofi invited me to his apartment to play video games. Memories of this time with my Egyptian friend remind me even now of the potential for sincere cross-cultural friendship. When we tear down the barriers we’ve built up since childhood and become recommitted to the development of simple friendships, we can all forge such unique relationships as mine. Though leaving my friend behind, I re-entered my life as a fifth grader having found a face for the faceless.
Routine gave way to reflection when the inevitability of war with Iraq was realized. At one point, I was looking at an article in the newspaper, and commented that an Iraqi man in a picture looked just like Egyptians we had met. No longer fearful of our neighbors across the Atlantic, I instead found myself defensive of a civilian population I felt I had met.
Though awakened in a panic, my suburban trance was ultimately laid to rest by the shift in perspective I experienced in Egypt. The trip sent me into an ongoing assessment of the shielded life I am so prone to lead; one which assumes a disregard for lifestyles unlike my own and a fear of those things I don’t understand.
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